The ancient Babylonians made resolutions by making promises to their gods to return borrowed items and pay outstanding debts at the beginning of their calendar year, coinciding with the planting season to ensure a successful crop and an abundant harvest later. The Romans made promises to their gods, specifically Janus, the two-faced god from which the first month of our calendar system derives its name.
Following the conversion of Roman Emperor Constantine by Pope Sylvester (who also healed the emperor of leprosy), pagan gods were no longer worshiped. To drive away the darkness of the past Romans wandered through dark streets shouting and making noise – you know, acting foolish much like many do today. A mask or costume ensured the ancient gods could not punish the revelers as they made merriment.
In medieval times knights gathered for one last feast during Christmas week, vowing to remain chivalrous by placing their hands on a peacock (“peacock vow”). Fast forward to the eighteenth century when the Wesley brothers instituted watch night services on New Year’s Eve as a means to close out the old and welcome the new year by soul searching, praying and resolving to be better Christians. In a way it was akin to both the Babylonian custom and the Jewish Rosh Hashanah (New Year) which culminates with Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
Different cultures, even regions of the United States, have their own New Year’s customs. For instance, the folks of Tallapoosa, Georgia hold an annual “Possum Drop” – a stuffed one (no innocent possums are harmed despite PETA’s protestations). In Brasstown, North Carolina, however, a live possum encased in a plexiglass pyramid is lowered from the roof of a store. Not to be outdone, the citizenry of Dillsburg, Pennsylvania drop a papier-mâché pickle. These unusual “drop” events are annual town festivals.
In Europe some towns in Italy still celebrate the new year by dropping objects out their windows – sofas, chairs, refrigerators, you name it. Ecuadorians make straw effigies to burn at midnight, signifying riddance of the past. Some customs are thought to ensure prosperity or good fortune for the new year. In the American South black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day are a must to ensure prosperity, along with cornbread and cabbage. The black-eyed peas symbolize coins, while cornbread is gold and the cabbage is green as in dollar bills.
For Brazilians the color of the underwear worn on day one of the new year will either bring love (pink), yellow (prosperity) or white (peace and happiness). Which color underwear would you wear? 🙂 How about pink-yellow-white striped — I could go for all three!
In Vienna, Austria pigs are considered good luck, so much so that they are let loose to run through the streets and in restaurants – touch a swine as it runs by and you’ll have good luck. A pomegranate wrapped in foil and thrown on a threshold in Greece is thought to scatter the seeds of good luck for the year ahead.
With all the resolutions we make every year, the truth is very few of them are ever kept. The church I attended in Los Angeles held a special service on New Year’s Eve. Each attendee was given a piece of paper and an envelope to write a letter to God about what you wanted to see happen or what you wanted to accomplish in the coming year with God’s help. Then we would address the letter to ourselves and the church would pay the postage to send it to us in a few months to see what kind of progress we’d made on achieving our goals.
I think the key is to set reasonable goals every year. Of course, sometimes we have no control over what happens and our plans are railroaded. The simple ones are the best, like those I saw posted on Facebook last night:
Be Happy . . . Enjoy every moment of your life. . . Life is too short to waste on grudges. . . Laugh when you can, apologize when you should . . . and let go of what you can’t change.
So, how will you celebrate the new year? However you plan to celebrate this year, please don’t forget to say a prayer for our fellow citizens struggling with grief and loss following the devastating storms which tore through parts of the United States this last week.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!